I recently gained access to a database of PhD dissertations and MA theses in China. Out of curiosity, I did a search for “越南” (Vietnam) and was amazed at what I found. . .
From what I have been able to determine, so far in this century there have been close to 100 PhD dissertations completed in China that deal with some aspect of Vietnamese history, with the majority having been completed in the last decade. The number of MA theses is also very large, and many of those have been completed in the past few years (indicating that this trend of scholarship on Vietnam getting produced in Vietnam is only going to increase).
As I browsed through the many dissertations – studies that covered everything from the ancient environment of Quảng Nam to, to institutional change in medieval Vietnam, to Chinese aid during the Vietnam War, to a comparative study of the writings of Lu Xun and Nam Cao – I wondered to myself: How many PhD dissertations on Vietnamese history have been produced in “the West” in the twenty first century? . . .
What is going on here? Globalization, for one. It is clear that these dissertations are increasingly being produced by Vietnamese who are studying in China, and Chinese who have studied in Vietnam. Such young scholars have mastery over at least two languages – Vietnamese and Chinese.
In “the West,” it’s a basic requirement for scholars who work on Vietnam to know Vietnamese, but few know Chinese, particularly those who focus on the modern period. Historians in Vietnam, meanwhile, are not required to learn Chinese either.
As I’ve said before, not-knowing Chinese limits what one can do and see when researching about Vietnamese history, and these dissertations make that blazingly clear. For instance, whereas Western scholars have basically only hinted at intellectual connections between China and Vietnam in the first half of the twentieth century (as if the French arrive and China suddenly disappears from the worldview of educated Vietnamese), there are several dissertations that have now been produced in China that document the various intellectual connections that persisted.
Then there are dissertations on Huế, on the painter Bùi Xuân Phái, on various topics in the history of Vietnamese Buddhism. . . the list goes on and on.
In the weeks ahead, I will try to go through some of these studies and share what I find. My initial impression, however, is to conclude by stating the obvious: globalization, the internationalization of higher education, and the transformations that the Digital Age have brought to the world of scholarship, are all game changers.